INTER(FEAR)ENCE (Sound installation, 2018)
London College of Communication Degree Show
Inspired by the notion that fear creates a sonic filter, which prevents us from recognizing our common humanity, this piece puts forward the idea that there is a transparent line of fear that divides black and white America. This division is both deep and systemic.
Inter(fear)ence speaks to the hierarchical division of whiteness and blackness, and on a deeper level, it speaks to the interactions between the powerful and the powerless. This transparent filter symbolises the ideological barriers that interfere with our listening. When we do not listen, we do not accept the humanity of the other.
This installation invites you to engage in two different perspectives and aims to explore how sound and listening impact racial politics. We hear anger, frustration, disbelief, fear, pride and humiliation. There is also condescension, domination, threats, impatience and violence.
Ultimately, the sonification of race and the racialization of listening means that as long as our understanding of each other is distorted by fear, we will always live in the fear of never truly being heard.
Developing the idea for this piece presented a lot of perplexing questions. If I was to create a sound piece, how do I handle the visuals of it without taking away from the sound? How can I make the piece simple, yet compelling? Which audio best illustrates how the notion of a sonic veil?
My initial thought was that I could use a screen of some sort, that people on either side saw a distortion of the other, and where sound was also distorted. I liked the idea, but it didn’t stay true to WEB DuBois’ analogy about the how black and white America see each other, but fail to hear each other. It had to be a clear screen or window.
Then I wondered about the sound itself. Should the sound be muffled and distorted or should it be clear? In listening to hours and hours of recordings of African Americans interacting with the police, there was clarity on both sides. They simply did not listen to each other. It was fear interfering with sound. This is how I came up with the title. So in the end, I chose not to distort the voices or had any other sound that would distract us from the piece.
In listening to and watching a number of examples of racial mis-hearing, I knew that there was no shortage of material. There were police recordings, 911 calls, footage from the public and news broadcasts, in fact, there was no shortage of use many more examples, so I had to decide what footage to use. Should it be a cacophony of voices or should it be pared down? Could I make the piece more impactful, and even noisier by using several cases of police abuse?
There was something compelling about the Sandra Bland case. I’m not sure if it was because she was a woman. Perhaps it was because she pointed out the officer’s blatant profiling of her or that this confrontation presented several stages of INTER (FEAR) ENCE, but I found it the most pertinent example.